A DAY IN THE LIFE: CDU

So I realized that I haven’t done one of these posts in a long time and wanted to share a new day since I switched rotations. For my second rotation as a psychology resident, I completed training on the Chemical Dependency Unit and worked with women struggling with substance abuse. Working in substance abuse can be such a rewarding experience, but also completely exhausting at the same time.

6:30am: I crawl out of bed after hitting the SNOOZE button for the umpteenth time and hop in the shower.

7:45am: I make it to work with a little time to spare to check my email.

8:00am: I head downstairs for morning meeting. During this time, we learn about anything major that happened on the unit the night before (e.g. discharges, illnesses, interpersonal issues between patients (this comes up a lot)). This is also an opportunity for the treatment team to discuss important things that are happening that day or that are coming up within the week. If there are any new admissions on the unit, the  team has an opportunity to meet the new patient’s during this time as well.

9:00am: I co-facilitate my first group of the day which focuses on helping my patients to work through the 12-step program.

11:00am:  I’ll meet with one of my patient’s for individual therapy and help her work through some tough issues!

12:00pm: Lunch time. I stuff my face with carbs and power up on coffee before heading into my afternoon groups (therapy can take a lot out of you).

1:30pm: I co-facilitate my second group of the day which focuses on trauma and healing.

3:00pm: I co-facilitate my last group of the day which is a psycho-educational class that teaches our patient’s about Dialectical Behavior Therapy and how to implement some of the core components in their lives.

4:00pm: I meet with another patient for individual therapy – we decide to take a walk in the nice spring weather as we have our session.

4:50pm: I rush back to my office to write my progress notes before heading out for the day.

5:30pm: I make it home and change into my workout clothes and head to yoga class.

7:45pm: Yoga was awesome! I grab a quick bite to eat before heading home and getting lost in reality TV.

9:30pm: After a quick shower, I climb in bed and watch Netflix until I fall asleep.

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Applying to Graduate School

Since this blog is geared toward students in psychology – that is the perspective from which I will be writing.

Research, Research, Research!!!!!

Applying to graduate school is definitely a stressful process, but, it’s not impossible. My best advice is to RESEARCH! Research various programs, research various schools, and research the various types of populations in which you are interested in working. This will help you to make an informed decision about which program and school is right for you. Also, it definitely helps to talk to people who are in the field you are trying to pursue or who are already in graduate school. Having people explain their own process beforehand can help to dispel rumors and decrease some of the anxiety you might be feeling.

First and foremost it is vital that you know what type of program you want to enter. This can be a master’s program, which will typically grant a Master of Arts degree in psychology (others may award a Master of Science), or a doctoral program which may grant a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD – more traditional) or a Doctorate of Psychology (PsyD).

Many people enter graduate school without knowing what type of work or population they want to do. Which is completely normal! However, you should have some understanding because this can save you a lot of money on the backend. For example, if you want to work with children you may not necessarily need a doctorate degree to do so. You can do the same type of work with a MA and save yourself a lot of money in loans! However, if you want to do psychological assessment, you will definitely need a doctoral degree! If you are interested in a more research oriented career, then a PhD program may be more suitable. However, if you want to spend more time on practical skills such as therapy and psychological assessment, then a PsyD program may be more appropriate for you.

Also, check your states licensure requirements. Many states require that you take certain classes in order to become licensed so you want to be sure that the program you are applying to has those classes listed in their curriculum. If you plan to practice in the state in which you live, most likely the course curriculum will be aligned for licensure in that state. However, if you plan on moving to work in a different state, be sure to check that state’s licensing requirements.

Now that we got some of the basics out of the way we can focus on the actual application.

Application – Fee

Every application starts with the written application and the fee.

Resume – Curriculum Vitae

These are two different types of documents. Make sure you double check to see what is required for the application you are submitting. Resumes tend to be more career focused,whereas CVs tend to focus more on academic achievements. There are plenty of resources on the internet that can help you with formatting. It also doesn’t hurt to have someone proofread your document.

Essay – Personal Statement

Perhaps one of the most important pieces to the application. This allows the admissions committee to get to know the type of person and student you are and what you can bring to their program. Usually, the essay will be a personal statement that will prompt you to tell the committee about yourself. Or, you may be required to answer a specific question such as, “Why are you interested in this field or program?”Your essay may go through several drafts before it is ready to be submitted. As stated before, it doesn’t hurt to have someone proofread your document.

Transcripts

I feel like this goes without saying but you definitely want to make sure that your undergraduate grades reflect a good academic standing. While programs will look at the entirety of your application, having a lower GPA may not reflect as well as another prospective applicant with a higher GPA.

Letters of Recommendation

Similar to the personal statement, letters of recommendation allow the admissions committee to learn about you through the perspective of someone who has taught or worked closely with you. Choose your letter writers carefully (I’ve heard some horror stories)! Pick someone with whom you have a positive relationship (trust me, not everyone does this), someone you’ve worked with or alongside for several months, someone who knows you on an academic and personal level, and someone who can contribute meaningfully to your graduate school journey. Think of someone that you would like to stay in contact with over the course of your academic career. Someone that would enjoy receiving updates about your progress and your journey to becoming a psychologist – this is your letter writer!

GRE scores

Some people may do a review course. I just bought the workbook and the huge stack of vocabulary cards and studied on my own for the entire summer. I probably did more not studying than actual studying. But, I made a decent score. I’ve taken so many standardized tests that I honestly don’t remember my score for the GRE. It wasn’t super high, but it wasn’t low either. I scored just what I needed to make my applications strong.

Previous coursework

Most programs may require that you have taken certain courses in undergrad. If you majored in psychology you’ve probably already completed the required courses. If not, you may want to take an Intro to Psychology course and an Abnormal Psychology course. Programs will have the required courses listed on their application requirements.

PhD program versus PsyD program

Earlier I spoke about some of the differences between the PhD and the PsyD. Their application process is also a little different. Mainly, for PhD programs in psychology you are applying to a research laboratory. Most of your time as a student will be spent conducting research while also taking courses on the side. As a PsyD applicant you are applying directly to the school/program of your choice. PhD programs tend to be extremely competitive mostly because the research lab in which you are applying will be paying for your education. Thus, they tend to only have a few spots open each year – some not at all. That’s why it’s super important to research as many programs as you can. On the other hand, PsyD programs tend to have more openings for prospective students, but tend to be more costly.

In a nutshell, there is something out there for everyone!

What Is Forensic Psychology?

I get this question a lot and it’s usually followed by, “Oh, like CSI!”

Many people confuse the field of Forensic Psychology with Forensic Science. Let me be the first to tell you…they are not the same!

For those of you considering a career in Forensic Psychology, it is important to know the differences. Broadly, Forensic Psychology deals with the application of psychological science to aspects of the legal system. More specifically, we help the court to understand various psychological matters (such as, mental illness, a person’s ability to give consent, is an individual equipped to be an effective parent) and their role within a particular legal case.

Forensic Psychology can be applied to civil and criminal proceedings (which tends to be the most popular realm), involve special populations (like juveniles or sex offenders), and allows psychologists to serve as expert witnesses in court. Forensic psychologists can be found in private practice, working in psychiatric hospitals or correctional facilities, on college campuses or even within business corporations. One of the best things about this field is that there are a vast amount of sectors and populations within which a person can work. You can never get bored!

As a Forensic Psychologist you will mostly conduct psychological and/or forensic-oriented assessments for court and provide treatment in the form of therapy (individual or group).

Civil Proceedings: In civil court (unlike criminal court), claims are usually brought upon by an individual person, group of people, or corporation against another person or group of people. (Think: Judge Judy). In civil courts forensic psychologists are useful for personal injury or child custody evaluations to name a few. In personal injury cases, the psychologist may be retained to evaluate the person who has been harmed (usually physically – like in an auto accident) and claims a mental health injury (i.e.suffering from PTSD or depression after being hit by a truck).

In a child custody evaluation (which can get pretty dramatic and messy!) the psychologist may be retained to evaluate one or both parents to determine who is the “better” fit to raise the child or children. In this example, the role of the forensic psychologist is to help the court to have a better understanding of the individual as a whole and any psychological problems that may be present. And, if there are psychological problems present, will they be a hinderance to raising the child or children in question.

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Criminal Proceedings: In criminal court, claims are usually brought upon by the state or the federal government and usually end with the defendant serving time in jail or prison (Think: Adnan Syed v. The State of Maryland). In criminal court, forensic psychologists are usually retained (by either defense or prosecution) to evaluate defendants. The two most popular evaluations are Competency to Stand Trial (CST) evals and Criminal Responsibility (Insanity) evals.

To put it simply, for each type of evaluation, there are certain state “rules” that must be considered when evaluating the person and each state differs on the types of “rules” that defendants must meet in order to qualify. CST evaluations help the court to determine if a defendant has an ability to aid in their own defense and consult with their lawyer. Someone who suffers from a serious psychological disability may have trouble answering certain questions about their case or may be unable to hold a conversation with their attorney. If this is true, the person must be psychiatrically treated and stable before they can proceed in court.

In insanity evaluations, the court is trying to determine if an individual was of “sound mind and body” when they committed a particular crime or if they were suffering from a serious mental disorder at the time that the crime was committed. Just like civil proceedings, the role of the psychologist is to help the court to understand the defendant and any psychological issues that may be at play.

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Forensic psychology also deals with special populations such as juvenile offenders and sex offenders. In addition, some forensic psychologists are trained to conduct specialized evaluations such as threat assessments and Fitness for Duty evaluations.

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This is just a small taste of the field of Forensic Psychology. There are many other roles and opportunities available. I’ll be exploring other aspects of the field in future posts!